Situational Leadership

What kind of leader are you? Are you the tough one who bosses people around? Or the thoughtful one who shares his wisdom and let people to decide what to do? Or the one who leads by example? Or the one who serves his team? If your answer is “a bit of all” then you can be called situational leader.

Situational leadership is a term first coined by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard in 1970’s. What is the appropriate leadership style should be always defined by the people you lead and particular situation you find yourself in. You can look at your team or individual people and judge their maturity by their ability and attitude (or in a bit different words competence and commitment). Are they “unable and insecure” or “unable but willing” or “capable but unwilling” or “capable, willing and confident”? Each maturity level deserves a bit different leadership style. When Blanchard and Hersey looked at it they defined four basic styles.

Telling

The most basic one when you tell your team what to do and how to do it. It is essentially one way communication. I’m the boss and you do what I tell you to do.

This is a style you use with teams or individuals that have low competence on particular task and often even low motivation. You need to define and plan everything, show and teach them how to do the task and oversee every step to ensure completion.

Selling

In this style you as a leader still provide the “what to do” and “how to do it” but you are open to feedback and you want to get buy-in from the team. You want to sell them your idea in hopes of getting better performance and higher motivation.

You can use this style with more competent teams that just need to be pushed into action. The individuals needs to be persuaded and helped a bit in the effort. Leading by example may work here, creating a vision and explaining what is in it for them will work.

Participating

In this style you just provide the “what and why” and work together with the team to figure out “how”. This can be quite heavy on coaching.

You are a coach and a mentor who is here to help but not necessarily to say how things should be done. For this style you need pretty mature team that is motivated and competent enough for the task at hand. You are here just to provide support and help when asked for. The goal is not to dwarf any motivation and help the team to build up their skills.

Delegating

In this style you just provide the “what and why” and often not even the “what” and step to the background letting the team decide how they want to accomplish the mission. You still expect some sort of feedback from the team so you can monitor whether the task was completed because you are ultimately accountable, but for all intents and purposes it is team’s responsibility.

This is a style to be used with people who essentially know what they are doing and are self-driven and motivated to do the task. The important part is to explain the big picture, what is the reason or vision for the outcome and provide necessary resources. The rest is on the team.

Empowering

Blanchard and Hersey came up with four basic styles, but it was forty years ago. In the modern knowledge based economy and for leaders working with creative teams you want to add one more style that is an extension of delegation. Empowerment means you transition the ownership of the task. It is not merely delegated by you still being responsible for completion but you truly step back and the team is now accountable for the success of the initiative. You are here just to enable them and then go hide somewhere.

What does this all mean for you as a leader? Be flexible and always judge the situation case by case and behave appropriately. Don’t try to force the same leadership style to every single situation only because that is the one you are comfortable with. Since a lot depends on maturity of the team or individual it is your responsibility as a leader to focus on developing their competence and commitment. Only then you can use all the styles as required by the situation.

 

Do you have a preferred leadership style and how do you handle situations where it doesn’t work?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Delete Your Calendar At Least Twice A Year

If you are a knowledge worker, chances are you rely on your email and calendar as the silent assistants who direct your life. My Outlook calendar tells me when to go to a meeting and who to meet, when to start my work, when to go home or even when to have a lunch. If you are working in one company or on one position for some time your calendar may start accumulating meetings that made sense some time ago but may not bring you the value today. Solution? Just delete your calendar every now and then and start from scratch.

It helps you to prioritize

To delete your calendar and start from zero is a great way to think and prioritize. Our jobs are changing and evolving over the time and maybe today you need to focus on different tasks and have a different set of meetings than you had six months ago. This exercise is a way to push you to think about your goals and your priorities. You should then align your calendar to fit this picture.

It helps you to get rid of useless meetings

After deleting your meetings I would suggest you give it some time before filling up the calendar again. What I do every six months is to delete everything and put back only the really important couple of key meetings. And then wait. If there are some other meetings that you cancelled and they really brought value it will be discovered pretty quickly either by you or others who will speak up and ask for the meeting. If no one misses it then it probably wasn’t that important in the first place.

It helps you to re-target your one-on-ones

If you are like me and your team is constantly growing and changing you may have calendar full of coaching, mentoring or just synchronization sessions with tons of people. The thing is, if you are not careful you may end up with tens of these one-on-ones a week and most of them may not have the impact they used to. Isn’t it better to regularly delete all of them and make some hard choices of who are the people that you should focus on right now? Maybe the guy who you’ve been mentoring for two years doesn’t need it as much as the one who just started. To regularly force yourself to re-evaluate your one-on-ones will also increase the real impact you have on your team as you spend your time where it is really needed.

I was struggling with this concept for some time until I changed my location. It wasn’t enough to change my role as I still could keep the old meetings and just add bunch of new ones, I had to relocate to geographically remote location (the Philippines) in my case with vastly different time zone so most of my former meetings ended up at around midnight. You can imagine it was very easy to delete them and reschedule the key ones to more suitable time. Since then I delete my calendar every six months and keep it uncluttered and focused on the right stuff. I would urge you not to wait till you move to a different country but just go and delete your calendar today!

 

What are your tips and tricks on how to make sure you don’t fill up your calendar with irrelevant meetings and tasks?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

What Is Possible Is Not Always Right

How often do you decide to do something only because “you can”? When you really think about it you may realize that it is way too often. Did you just jumped in the car and drove half a mile to buy a bottle of water when you could have walked? Did you just came home and turned on the TV without really thinking about it and then not even watching it? Did you just sent an email on “hot topic” instead of picking up a phone and calling to the person in question? Did you just buy something without really needing it just because it looked nice and you had some money and free time?

Very few of us behave really responsibly and think through our actions before we go and do something. To think logically about every single thing we do all the time would be really taxing on our internal resources and we would overthink everything and not enjoy the life so much. But when it comes to business we should pay a bit more attention as the resources we are using are not just our internal (attention, willpower, etc.) ones but also external (company’s money, time of other people, priority of the stuff we work on, and others).

Time

This one resource is very easy to waste on things we don’t need or want. Did you just spent three hours sitting in front of a TV watching some movies you didn’t really enjoy only because the TV was on and it was easy not to go and do something else? You could go out with friends, spend time with family, exercise, read, work, learn to paint or take a walk and relax. And instead of these you decided to sit and mindlessly stare at something you forgotten about the next day. Why? Because you could.

Money

Just imagine a typical situation in corporate environment. Your boss came to you and told you that you have five hundred dollars to spend and celebrate some team success. What do you do? Will you think in terms of “I have 500 USD, let’s spend it,” or in terms of “I want to celebrate our success in the most meaningful way and I have 500 USD in case I need them.” The first approach is wasteful to company resources and may not even bring the effect you want to achieve. “Let’s all go to a fancy restaurant and order some expensive wine,” while most of us would prefer just to hang out in our favorite pub over couple of beers. You just spent five hundred dollars in a rather inefficient way and why? Only because you could. The responsible approach would have been to think first about what type of celebration is right for your team and then just figure out how the five hundred bucks fit in. And if you need just two hundred? So what? You had your fun and by acting like a responsible adult you even saved some money for others.

Attention

There are so many distractions in modern society. Social media, old-school media, overload of information coming from all sides. But only because the information is available it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to consume it. You should carefully pick what channels of information you want to follow and how much time you want to spend on it. Herbert Simon (winner of Nobel Prize for Economics) once said “What information consumes is rather obvious. It consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” In my case I decided not to buy a TV as it would just cause too much distraction. I decided to read only a selected number of online media and I do it only at specific times. The same goes to e-mail, instant messengers, and other types of online communication. It is only up to you to decide how responsive you want to be or whether you will be online and available 24×7 only because you can.

So what should you do?

Sit down and spend couple of minutes replaying your actions last week and try to understand the decisions that let to them. Did you do the things you did because they were the right things to do or because you just could?

 

What are your examples of situations when you did something only because you could without thinking whether you should?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Getting Stuff Done: The Right Tactics

Last week in Getting Stuff Done: The Right Priorities I talked about the importance to get the right stuff done regardless of your short-term personal gains. Today I will talk about the technical aspects of “how” to get stuff done as painlessly as possible. It took me a while but I finally found some time to read Getting Things Done by David Allen. I’m not big fan of various tips & tricks on how to increase productivity and even though I sometimes reluctantly give some tips to others when mentoring I always accompany it with a disclaimer that even though it works for me it may not for others. We are all unique just as snowflakes are. The work by David Allen however made an impression on me for two reasons. First, he is providing a rather detail guide on how to organize your life to get more things done with less worrying about them. Second, to my surprise his system is relatively close to how I organize my actions and I just use common sense and learn from my mistakes.

Mindset & Benefits

The idea behind the concept (or framework) is simple. Have a single system that is so well organized that you can implicitly trust it. Have everything written down somewhere where you can easily find it so you don’t need to keep it in your head. Have things available when you need them but out of the focus when it is not the appropriate time to deal with them. For example, why to look the whole day at a reminder that you need to buy a bottle of milk in the evening? There is nothing you can do about it when you are in the office so it is just constantly distracting you and pushes you to worry about something you cannot fix at that particular point of time. Every single action has the right time, place and energy levels to be acted upon. You can forget about setting up priorities for tasks or trying to order and reorder them all the time. These things are just distractions that make your life more complicated and not easier.

Framework

David Allen describes his framework in five distinct steps or phases

Collection phase – the part of the framework where you collect all the information and tasks that come to your life. Keep in mind that not everything is electronic so some of the tasks may come in the form of snail mail, people asking you for help, etc. What I do is to transfer everything into electronic form as soon as possible and thus have a single inbox for my whole life. And not surprisingly that inbox is called Microsoft Outlook. Anything that I need to act on I send to myself as an email. Just a brief note, or a scanned copy of the snail mail. I know I can trust myself in doing this mindlessly under any circumstances and thus I know I can trust my inbox holds the complete list of things I need to do or need to know.

Processing phase – this one is the most tricky. You need to process your inbox regularly and at the same time it shouldn’t act as distraction to you. Ideally you want to create a habit and process your inbox couple of times a day. I tend to do it in the morning, after lunch and in any spare time I have during the day that cannot be effectively used by doing anything else. Just make sure that when you are processing your inbox you have the flexibility to immediately act on some of the small items, so doing it during a meeting when you cannot pick up a phone is not the best idea.

There are couple of rule you need to follow when processing your email:

  • Focus and process one item at a time
  • Once you look at the item don’t put it back to inbox
  • For every item ask a simple question: Is there an action to be taken?
    • If no then move to archive or appropriate list of reading
    • If yes then ask yourself: Can it be done by me in couple of minutes? (Allen proposes less than 2 minutes)
      • If the answer is yes then just do it right now
      • If the answer is no then either delegate right now to someone else
      • Or figure out what the next step is and put into your action items list
  • Following these rules you can process your inbox really fast and at the end have a bunch of solved problems, bunch of action items and an empty inbox – good feeling right? Especially the small wins and the empty inbox will give you sense of accomplishment and energy to work on the more time consuming tasks
  • Keep in mind that you completely ignore the importance of the tasks! You want every single aspect of your life to move forward, not just the part that currently feels like important or urgent

Organizing phase – here is where the magic comes. Once again you don’t talk about priorities but about context. You want to organize your action items based on your ability to deal with them. So instead of sorting on urgent, important, unimportant, etc. you sort based on location or possibly energy levels. In my case I would have separate lists for

  • Shopping – here comes anything I have to do while commuting between office and home
  • Home – anything that can be done only when I’m physically at home
  • Office with people – anything I need to do in the office where I need support of others, input, etc.
  • Office in the morning – anything I need to do in the office where I don’t need to interact with anyone
  • Weekend – usually some reading or things that I consider low-energy/hobby type of things
  • Meetings (by person) – I have bunch of lists for each of the regular meetings I have. When the meeting with a particular person comes this list turns into an agenda
  • Someday list – this is a list I use for collecting ideas that still need some time to mature, things I may want to read one day, etc. Just make sure you don’t overpopulate this list and clean it up regularly

Do it phase – now you just take your action item list and run with it. You don’t need to think too much about the next steps because they are already written down there. This is sort of mindless execution phase. How do you decide which task from the list to take? Decide based on time and energy. You can consider the importance and urgency at this stage too but it shouldn’t be the defining aspect. You need to be able to finish the task in one go so if you have just fifteen minutes for something that will likely take an hour there is no point of trying to get it done right now. Also if you have a task that requires you to come up with something creative and you just came from lunch and feel sleepy better take a task that will keep you awake like talking to someone.

What if you are long-term not able to finish your tasks and you are constantly behind? It means you learn to say no to some of the work coming your way. The right time to say no is when the request hits your inbox. Once you process it and accept it then you should finish it, but there is nothing wrong in saying no to some of the work because you are already maxed out.

Review phase – you need to regularly review your system and your lists to make sure they stay neat and clean. I do it once a week usually on Friday or during the weekend. I would look at

  • My projects and ensure each has a next step defined
  • My long-term goals and ensure there is an clear action on them
  • Review next week’s calendar and note down any preparation needed
  • Review the Someday list
  • Review the context lists to make sure everything is still relevant and up to date
  • Ideally also make a brain dump into your inbox and if you have time also process it

Urgency & Importance

In Lack of time is just an illusion! article I talked about the 4D concept. It is a pretty well-known and in theory widely used system on how to prioritize your tasks. I used it for some time myself but eventually abandoned as I discovered that it is just too complicated for everyday use. Priorities are shifting, what wasn’t urgent yesterday is urgent today. What is urgent today may be obsolete tomorrow. I transferred some of the thoughts behind the 4D concept to the simple lists. The reason why the framework described above works better than 4D is that it deals with specific small measurable next steps instead of big picture stuff. You may decide that learning a foreign language is important so you keep it in front of your eyes in 4D matrix but unless you come up with the first small step like “enroll to a course” or “buy a workbook” you will never move forward on that goal regardless of the importance.

Projects & Personal life

Just mix it up. You want your system to be as simple as possible and if you want to have a happy what I call “integrated” life (as described in Forget About Work-Life Balance, Just Live A Happy Integrated Life) you may as well mix your personal tasks with the professional ones. If that makes you uncomfortable you can treat your personal life as a separate project. You probably want to call it something different so you don’t end up like me when under the spell of corporate life I called a date dinner with a girl: one-on-one.

In fact Allen proposes to treat any initiative that requires more than one step as a project. That way you make sure that there is always a clear next step defined regardless of how big the project actually is. Most of the time I keep my working list pretty linear without any structure just to keep everything moving forward and have a detailed structure just in archiving data for easier access. It may look like this and every time I finish the step I define a next one to keep things moving forward

  • Initiative 1 – next step
  • Initiative 2 – next step
  • Initiative 3 – next step

For the full disclosure I need to confess that this system assume you work with it 365 days a year otherwise you need to improvise. In my case it breaks down when I take couple of weeks of vacations and go somewhere out of the grid with no laptops, no phone and no electricity. After I return I tend to use the more traditional approach of urgency and priority to sift through the inbox in couple of runs and cherry-pick the stuff I need to deal with right now and sort of ignore anything that can wait. It usually takes me couple of weeks to catch up with my inbox and makes returns from vacations a bit of a nightmare.

 

How do you organize your day to get the most out of it? Do you distinguish between personal and business tasks?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.